Artist of the Month: Amelie Lens
Artist of the Month: Amelie LensAugust 10, 2020
Amelie Lens can’t decide whether her last stadium gig felt like a good dream or a living nightmare. After four months away from the world stage, she was back behind the decks at Awakenings in the cavernous Gashouder Amsterdam venue. Amelie looked the same as usual. Oversized Exhale t-shirt, dark mid-length hair, a lick of black eyeliner. Her expression seems relieved, though. Blissful almost, like she’s taking a bath after a stressful day or inhaling oxygen after being deprived of it for a while. When she drops an unapologetic techno pounder by Rocko Garoni and Sylvie Maziarz, a grin splits her face. Awakenings unleash their almighty production power, firing out twenty-foot flames that bellow across the arena. Amelie Lens, so used to thousands of screaming fans, looks up, and for a second, her smile falters. Ahead, there’s nothing but black space — just flames and lasers disappearing into the abyss.
“That set was 1.5 hours of just mixed feelings,” says Lens, speaking from her apartment in Antwerp. “I’d get really into my mixing and forget, then I’d drop a track, and fire would shoot out, and I’d look up and remember again that no one is there.”
It must have felt like a dystopian future where no one likes her music anymore. She laughs at that — a happy, good-natured laugh — a sure sign that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. But to be fair, a world where Amelie Lens isn’t adored does seem like a ridiculous concept.
A group of fans physically follow her around the world. They buy her gifts that she genuinely likes and wants as if they’re her friends or family members. Lens says they didn’t know each other until recently. They followed her around individually and kept bumping into one another. One gig last year, Lens looked up and saw them all dancing there together. They’d decided to form a super-fan supergroup, and worship Lens, Exhale, and all the LENSKE artists as a unit.
A lot has happened in Lens’ 30 years on earth. She grew up in a small Flemish-speaking town near Brussels, raised by her grandmother after her mother suddenly passed away when Amelie was five. Lens chose to go to school in Antwerp as a teen, and at 15, she attended Belgium’s Dour Festival, where she fell violently in love with techno.
At the very same festival, Lens got scouted by a modeling agency. She lapped the world a few times, modeling for global fashion houses, but everybody knew her heart belonged to techno. They found her at a festival, after all.
By 2013 Lens was sacking off photoshoots on Fridays to play a residency at Labyrinth Club under her late mother’s name, Renée. As if juggling two careers in modeling and music wasn’t enough, Lens decided to try her hand at the breakfast business too. She and her partner Sam Deliaert (AKA Farrago), launched Baerbar oatmeal company in 2015, which, unsurprisingly, was a huge success. Amelie remembers being so tired between photo shoots, DJ sets, and packaging porridge that she had a bit of a meltdown in her kitchen.
It didn’t take all that much soul searching for Lens to decide to focus on techno, and once her full attention was on music, there was no stopping her. In 2016 Italian techno imprint Lyase Recordings snapped up her first track “Exhale” and Pan-Pot swooped in after that, blown away by the power, talent, and focus of this unassuming young artist. Lens doesn’t think her seize-the-day drive is a coincidence. She was young when she found out just how short life can be.
If DJs are mountains, Amelie Lens is Everest. She headlines festivals the world over. Her productions consistently top the global techno charts. In a typical non-pandemic month, she’ll play Bali, Marseille, Berlin, and Melbourne. She’ll probably release an EP within that time or release someone else’s on her LENSKE imprint. After that, she’ll throw a packed out stadium gig under her EXHALE party series, and then she’ll design some merchandise which will sell out immediately. Unstoppable doesn’t quite cut it. Amelie Lens dominates. She just wishes this applied in her own home.
“I’ve realised since lockdown that this is not my apartment,” she laments about her cats. “It’s theirs. I have to fit into their life. They stretch out on the table. They sit on my synthesiser. I have to just squeeze in between them.”
Just then, we’re interrupted as one of “them” jumps on the table. Lens is still talking, but the camera is almost entirely obscured by a furry white butt. All I can see is one of Amelie’s slender arms. “Winter!” Amelie says. “I’m sorry. They’re so loud. Every time I record vocals, I have to cut out the cat noises.”
Amelie’s cats and her career have always been intertwined. In 2017, a vinyl set of hers went viral. Her selection, of course, was mesmerising, but about two minutes in, Winter enters the picture, sitting on her pile of records. There’s something utterly charming about watching Lens tilt the cat up, trying to make selections while not disturbing its zen. Winter lies there unperturbed for the entire 75 minutes, sometimes at a tilt, sometimes not, because Winter gives zero fucks. One YouTube commenter sums it up nicely: “Came for the techno… stayed for the cats.”
But there was something a little too charming about the scene. The internet said no. She was branded a marketing campaign. Big-name DJs joined in, some of them Lens’ heroes, and it’s something that continues to hurt her today. “There’s no plan,” she says. “There never was. It’s just me. I just like posting about my cats.”
Chat to Amelie Lens for three seconds, and you’ll agree, this is just her. She’s so thoughtful and conscientious it’s impossible not to feel instantly at ease. She’s sorry about her cats and also about the construction happening outside the window. She wants to know how I’m doing, if I feel safe at the moment, and if I had an okay time during lockdown. She leans forward when she talks, totally engaged, and everything she says feels soft and considered. I get the impression that not only would Amelie Lens never hurt a fly — if she saw one injured, she’d bandage it up and let it stay a few nights until it was ready to buzz off again.
When I ask her what she misses most pre-COVID, she cries. “Any DJ booth. Anywhere in the world. I really miss it. To just…” Her voice breaks. She puts both hands up to her face. “Oh, wow. I get emotional…” she wipes away a tear. “Just the energy of the people. It’s incredible. I just miss it so much.”
If Amelie Lens is a marketing campaign, then this woman deserves to win an Oscar. But as Lens says, it’s this very criticism that keeps driving her forward. Although she has rightfully earned her place at the top of techno, the artist continues to pour everything she has into every show she plays out of sheer respect for the music. She’ll research the specific music taste of a region and adjust her sets accordingly. And when she can, she’ll take time before her set to dance amongst the crowd, just to soak up the vibe so she can wring it back out when she plays.
“It’s not necessarily that I want to prove anything to the industry anymore,” she says. “It’s more for myself. I’m a perfectionist, and I want to be the best I can possibly be and keep improving.”
During lockdown, she decided to delete everything on her hard drives — every sample, every audio effect, and every half-finished idea — to start entirely from scratch. “I’m getting nerdier and digging deeper into Ableton,” she says. “This has been a really interesting learning process. I haven’t finished a lot, but I’ve learned so much.”
Lens has struggled to finish music during lockdown because she’s so used to getting feedback from the crowd. She can’t know what works and what doesn’t until people go completely ape shit in stadiums. But luckily she finished her third release on her LENSKE imprint before COVID hit. Higher, with a remix from FJAAK, is a pre-lockdown track for a post-lockdown world — a euphoric floor-filler, more uplifting than Lens’ usual releases, and one she hopes fans will soon be able to dance along to, shoulder to shoulder, crying happy tears alongside her own.
Amelie Lens lives by the ethos, “be kind to everyone.” It’s something her grandmother drilled into her from a young age, and she’s really taken it on board. Even her responses to toxic Reddit threads are mature and thoughtful. She gets confused and upset, she says, when she hears of people in the industry who she considers friends disrespecting festival staff and trashing hotel rooms.
But there’s a tension between Amelie’s kindness towards humans and kindness towards animals. Read between the lines of her social media posts, and you might get the hint that she really, really doesn’t want you to eat animal products. She tries to hold back, she says, because she doesn’t want to alienate her fans. But today, she totally lets it rip.
“My number one dream is that people will eat more vegan food,” she says. “It’s really not that hard anymore. We have so many alternatives.”
Sometimes Lens has to leave the supermarket because she finds it so upsetting to see meat flying off the shelves. When she went full vegan 18 months ago, she planned to keep her opinions under wraps. But the more she’s learned about the meat industry, the more impassioned she’s become.
“It’s easy to say you don’t want to be a preachy vegan,” she says, visibly agitated. “But I truly believe with all of my heart… like every bone in my body believes that the life of an animal is worth more than lunch. And it’s really a strong feeling. It’s hard to sit and stay quiet about it.”
Any promoter that books Lens will take her to a vegan restaurant for their artist dinner. If they don’t, then they haven’t done their research. Worse still, if they order meat, Lens will politely sit elsewhere or perhaps leave. “It’s really hard to sit at a table with someone next to you while they’re chewing on an animal’s dead body,” she says, bewildered. “I just can’t. I just want to cry.”
She has some very big, very exciting releases and collaborations coming up this year; dream-come-true material, which she’s absolutely not allowed to talk about right now. But as lockdown lifts, her mind is already behind the decks. She cannot wait to return to her happy place, where everybody’s problems disappear for a few hours. She says she’s glad she’ll have to wear a mask. “I’m going to wear sunglasses, too,” she says. “That way, no one can see the tears falling down my face.”